East Aurora's 16-acre Hamlin Park is a beloved jewel in the community, but village officials think it's time to take a big-picture look at what's most critical to improve the park when money is tight.
In fact, the Village Board this week talked about maybe doing a master plan for the more than 100-year-old park and also putting an online survey out to residents to gain their input as to what they value most at the park. The village also wants to open a dialogue with Aurora town officials about the park - knowing that it is used by more than just village-based residents - and to figure out the best and most equitable way to fund needed capital improvements.
"We've got to identify what we want the usages of that park to be," Village Administrator Bryan Gazda said. "We should have a master plan for the park. Why should the village residents be the only ones paying for capital improvements when the park is used by town residents and others outside the community?"
The park is used for a potpourri of activities, including baseball, an annual fireworks display, town recreation programs and Little Loop football, among others.
The latest chatter about the park was sparked by a spate of recent emails to Village Hall from residents wondering about the deteriorating condition of the park's four tennis courts. The village says that work could run upward of $80,000 - something that's not in the budget.
Mayor Allan Kasprzak said it's time to take a broader look at the park, since for a long time, concern has been mounting about its overuse.
"The Hamlin Park tennis courts are all in rough shape," he said. "Are we going to spend $80,000 on new tennis courts for six people? I don't know about that. I think the park is overused and village taxpayers shoulder the cost of improvements at Hamlin."
Trustee Patrick Shea, who lives next to the park, said the tennis courts tend to be used more for roller hockey right now. "But putting new courts in is our responsibility as an improvement to the park," he said.
The idea of a park master plan is appealing to members of the Village Board since the village is on the verge of contracting with an engineering consultant, and this could fall within an engineer's work scope. "I love the idea of doing a master plan for the park," Trustee Peter Mercurio said.
The park, donated by the Hamlin family to the village in 1900 with the stipulation that the village spend $100 yearly on park maintenance, is a popular location for community events as well. The park hosts the Independence Day fireworks, which draw more than 10,000 people from the area, is used for the bulk of the town's summer recreation programs, as well as baseball and football in the community, picnicking and also is home to the Aurora Players theater group.
As the park's owner, the village is responsible for overall capital improvements at the park, and Gazda says it pays for the bulk of park maintenance costs, while the Town of Aurora says it handles general maintenance such as mowing, garbage pickup, weed trimming and cleaning public rest rooms. The town says it does not keep a specific breakdown of what it spends on Hamlin.
The village has $20,000 budgeted for parks and recreation expenses throughout the village, including pocket parks and the traffic circle, but not specifically designated for Hamlin Park. But Gazda said most of that amount would likely go toward Hamlin-related needs. The latest outlay from the village was about $20,000 to help beef up insulation at the theater pavilion, which dates to 1904.
The Hamlin Park debate re-opened the mention of the fireworks display that has grown substantially over the years. Kasprzak said it may be time to consider having the community host that event at the New York State Knox Farm Park.
Aurora Town Recreation Director Peggy Cooke welcomed a discussion on the park.
"The tennis courts are in deplorable condition," she said. "They're really getting to be unplayable," she said, noting their cracks were sealed about 10 years ago. " would be a good opportunity for some real good discussion for the park because it is very loved by the community. For 20 years, we've wanted to renovate the tennis courts, but there's never any money. So a decision does need to be made."
Cooke said that because the village owns the park, it needs to initiate discussion about its future focus.